The national men’s football team guns for a strong start when it battles Singapore in the opening salvo of the AFF Suzuki Cup at the National Stadium in Singapore on Wednesday.
Kick off is at 8:30 p.m. (Manila time) with the Philippine Azkals looking to grab early momentum in Pool A of Southeast Asia’s biggest football showpiece.
Azkals coach Scott Cooper said they will parade a deadly brew of seasoned campaigners and young guns whose main goal is to limit the attacking opportunities of the faster, more rugged Singaporeans.
“We do have some depth there for sure and we can say it’s a strong defensive unit,” Cooper, whose wards will be competing for the first time since seeing action in the joint FIFA World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers in June.
“Our defensive unit is pretty strong, but that comes down to a good unit of defending from the front and transitioning together.”
Following a six month-hiatus in the international pitch, the Azkals are eager to assemble the strongest squad that could finally make it to the Suzuki Cup finals since the country participated in 1996.
Their buildup, however, hit a snag as the team management had a hard time securing commitments from several Filipino booters, especially those from abroad, that eventually led to a short preparation period.
The Azkals failed to secure commitment from star goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and other top prospects Gerrit Holtmann, Patrick Strauss, Raphael Obermair, Michael Kempter while Carli de Murga and Alvaro Silva were not able to join the team due to injuries.
Still, the Azkals are determined to deliver a stellar performance with skipper Stephan Schrock and veteran Suzuki Cup campaigners like Patrick Reichelt, Martin Steuble, Amani Aguinaldo, Kevin Ingreso, Iain Ramsay and Daisuke Sato in the roster.
Naturalized forward Bienvenido Marañon is also set to make his much-awaited national team debut alongside newcomers Sandro Reyes and Oskari Kekkoken.
But winning over Singapore will not be easy.
The home team will enter the pitch oozing with confidence as it opened its campaign with a 3-0 drubbing of Myanmar on Sunday.
Singapore head coach Tatsuma Yoshida said they are eyeing to sustain their momentum and pull off another win that could give them an early lead in the standings.
“The first match is always important for the team, but we got three points and that’s the most important thing,” said Yoshida, who will rely on strikers Iksan Fandhi, Song Ui-young and Harris Harun at the attack zone.
“I’m proud of them, of their performance, but we can be better, we have to improve for the next (game against Philippines).”